Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reflection 8: Final Reflection

“The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” -  Ralph W. Sockman

It is hard to believe that my second semester of sophomore year and the Arab World class is coming to a close. The expectation that I had for this course was that I would gain knowledge on the history and culture of the Arab World and Islam. I can honestly say that this course exceeded that expectation. I obtained a vast amount of information on the Arab World and its culture through the numerous resources provided by Dr. Esa.  

My favorite part about the Arab World class occurred at the beginning of the course when we learned about Islam and Islamic culture. This was a subject that I did not know much about, and as an Arabic major, I knew how important it was for me to have a better understanding of this topic. I thought that Dr. Ira Zepp’s book, The Muslim Primer, was incredibly effective in giving a widespread background of Islam from a number of different perspectives. I also really enjoyed reading The Yacoubian Building in class. It was a fascinating novel with a diverse cast of characters with a variety of backgrounds. I look forward to reading it in Arabic some day.

Personally, I wish we would have covered Islam and Islamic culture for a little bit longer. I wish that a class on Islam was offered by either Dr. Esa or the Religious Studies Department so that I could take it. I also really enjoyed reading poems, The Doum Tree of Wad Hamid, and The Yacoubian Building a lot. They gave a different, first-hand background of the culture that I would not have been able to receive from a textbook. They were also just entertaining pieces to read. I wish we would have covered politics a little less, just because I took Politics of the Middle East with Dr. Boukhars last semester. I still learned new things, but a lot of the things I heard were pretty repetitive. All in all, I loved the Arab World class. I wish another Arab World Part II was offered next year so that I could take it again and continue to learn more about the captivating culture that surrounds the Arab World.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Weekly Report 8: Naomi Shihab Nye

“I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.” - Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American. Throughout her early years and in high school, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. She ended up receiving her BA in English and World Religions from Trinity University in San Antonio. Her experiences in these different cultures, even at a young age, has influenced many of her works.
Nye often writes about her experiences as an Arab-American through her poems and books. She illustrates her heritage and peaceful spirit through her well-rounded and diverse pieces. Despite authoring some books, she is best known as a poet and has won a multitude of awards for her poems. For example, she received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award for You and Yours in 2005. She has also obtained honors from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, as well as the Carity Randall Prize and Lavan Award. She still has been successful as a children’s author, winning the Jane Addams Children’s Book award in 1998 for Habibi. Her poems and short stories have appeared in a numerous journals throughout the world as well.

Following September 11th, Nye became a major figure for Arab-Americans by speaking out against terrorism and prejudice. She wrote a collection of poems that was published as one novel, 19 Varieties of Gazelle:  Poems of the Middle East, that dealt with the lack of understanding between Arabs and Americans. She received a lot of praise for this work due to the timeliness and thought put into her message. Finally, in 2009, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Today, she lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Works Cited:
"Naomi Shihab Nye." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
"Naomi Shihab Nye." Academy of American Poets. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekly Report 7: Sam Khalifa

Sam Khalifa was born on December 5th, 1963 in Fontana, California while his father was working on his Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside. During his youth, he relocated numerous times due to his father’s job, twice to the Middle East. At a young age, he moved to Alexandria, Egypt and a few years later at the age of 12 his family moved to Tripoli, Libya. In Libya, Sam truly developed a love for the game of baseball, playing on a sand field with the children of American businessmen employed by the oil companies in the surrounding area.
Sam’s mother, an American, was a native of Tucson, Arizona, and that is where Sam attended high school. He immediately became a dazzling athlete, both on the gridiron and the diamond. He was named the all-city quarterback by The Arizona Daily Star in 1982, the same year he led his baseball team to a state-championship title as their star shortstop. He was selected as the 7th-pick in the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and was offered a $100,000 signing bonus.

He developed quickly as a player, and by 1985, Khalifa was on display at Three Rivers Stadium as the Pirates everyday shortstop, replacing the injured Johnnie LeMaster. He got off to a red-hot start, recording hits in six of his first eleven Major League at-bats. However, his time in the limelight faded rapidly, and by the 1989 season, he found himself in Triple-A Buffalo moving from position to position. He realized that he would never be the everyday shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. One night, during a road trip for Buffalo, Khalifa missed the team bus due to a miscommunication and flew home in frustration. He was suspended by the Pirates and he figured he would start over the next season in spring training with another organization. He even had a tryout set up with the San Diego Padres.
However, five months later, Khalifa’s father was murdered, ending any aspirations Khalifa had of making a comeback. He no longer could focus on the game. Instead, he obtained a college degree, drove a cab, went through a multitude of jobs in sales, and ended up as a cab driver again. He refused to get over his father’s murder and the ongoing investigation.
Rashad Khalifa, his father, was brutally murdered on January 31, 1990, at the Masjid of Tucson. Rashad founded the masjid himself, considering himself a messenger of God, implementing science, modernity, and numerology into the practice and study of the Islamic faith. He considered himself a prophet, which led to a lot of controversy and threats. His son, Sam, struggled to focus on his baseball career during this time due to the distractions at home. Rashad’s murder became a cold case until 2006, when the Justice Department traced DNA to a man named Glen Francis. Francis was eventually indicted for the murder of Khalifa in 2013.

Today, Sam Khalifa is a content man. He does not discuss his glory days as a Major Leaguer much, and instead, spends his time either volunteering as a coach at his high school alma-mater or driving his cab.


Brownfield, Paul. "Briefly a Rising Star, Forever a Mourning Son." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Weekly Report 6: Alaa Al Aswany

On December 11th, 2015, The Guardian released an article discussing how Egypt had decided to shut down one of Alaa-al Aswany’s public seminars. Aswany first burst into the world of literature in 2002 with his second novel, The Yacoubian Building. Not only was it a bestseller in Arabic, but the English translation and movie were incredibly popular as well. Because of this, he is able to maintain a high-profile through his newspaper columns, novels, and public speaking endeavours. He is considered a controversial speaking because he creates debate and showcases his viewpoints on certain political aspects of Egypt.

Alaa Al Aswany

Aswany was supportive of Egyptian President Sisi’s use of military intervention against the Muslim Brotherhood, even after a mass killing of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in August of 2013. However, he was incredibly critical of Sisi’s style of governance, and actually campaigned against him in the election of May of 2014 on behalf of Hamdeen Sabahy, the socialist candidate. His criticism of President Sisi drew enough attention to have the novelist banned from publishing his weekly column in Al Masry Al Youm, an Egyptian newspaper, and from appearing in any media run by the state of Egypt. As a result, Aswany has been quoted as saying that under Sisi’s government “freedom of expression does not exist” and is adamantly opposed to any form of dictatorship. He now uses social media to communicate with his Egyptian audience, considering it “the only space left for free expression.”

The cancellation of Aswany’s talk still accentuates the point that Sisi’s tolerance for any type of criticism or non traditionalist ideas are dwindling. In the past few years, numerous journalists and activists have been jailed. It has affected writers as well. For example, Ahmed Naji went to trial in November of 2015 due to a chapter within his novel The Use of Life, which was accused of “offending public morals.” In February of 2016, he has given a harsh two-year prison sentence for “violating public modesty.” This is just one of many examples of authors being restricted and punished in regards to their works.

Hence, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information condemned the cancellation of Aswany’s seminar, saying that “he (Aswany) is being subjected to smear campaigns.” In 2015, Aswany released two books in English translation:  The Automobile Club and Democracy Is the Answer. His loyal Egyptian fans are hoping that his second book can inspire a change in Egyptian politics and society and allow them to regain their freedom of expression. Much to their dismay, that change is yet to be seen.

Qualey, Marcia Lynx. "Egypt Shuts down Novelist Alaa Al-Aswany's Public Event and Media Work." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reflection 6: The Relationship Between the United States and Middle East

Dr. Leahy covered a multitude of specific topics pertaining to the relationship between the United States and the Middle East in her lecture. She started by pointing out that the main focal point of conflict between the U.S. and the Middle East lies in the U.S.’s support of Israel. As long as the United States supports Israel, there will be resentment towards the United States in the Middle East. This resentment has great merit. Israel receives roughly 40% of all U.S. aid. They continue to receive this aid despite the immorality the state portrays on a daily basis. The murder of Rachel Corrie, an American who was working at Rafah Refugee Camp, at the hands of the IDF was not even enough to get the U.S. to relinquish some of its aid. Furthermore, in conflicts such as the Battle of Jenin in 2002, the United States allowed Israel to kill civilians and destroy homes, leaving 4,000 people homeless. The United States also rejected the idea of a cease fire in 2006 when Lebanon was invaded by Israel. Israel was withstanding rocket attacks on military sites by Hezbollah, and responded by attacking innocent Lebanese civilians rather than military targets. By delaying the ceasefire, the United States actively endorsed Israel’s actions and allowed them to bomb infrastructure, set up a naval blockade, and kill 1,200 Lebanese. Israel’s response was not proportional to the threat displayed by Hezbollah. More recently, in May of 2010, the IDF boarded the vessel of the Free Gaza Movement from Turkey who were bringing aid such as food, medicine, and building materials to the Gaza Strip. The IDF ended up killing 9 Turkish civilians that day for simply trying to help those in need. 

As for the U.S.’s future with Israel, it is still to be determined. President Obama hoped to reestablish the borders to what they were in 1967, however he was unable to accomplish this feat. All of the major U.S. presidential candidates, other than Bernie Sanders, spoke at AIPAC, a pro-Israel organization, and vowed to stand unconditionally with Israel. Ted Cruz went as far as to say, “Palestine has not existed since 1948.”

Outside of Israel, there are many other factors that lead to the conflict between the United States and Middle East. First, the United States has supported Middle Eastern dictators throughout history, no matter their behavior. The United States, a democratic state, supports dictators while crushing democratic elections like they did in 2006 in Palestine. In January of 2006, Hamas won legislative elections in Palestine, only to have the United States, Russia, the European Union, and United Nations cut funding to Palestine because they were not happy with the election results. Hamas was what the people wanted, proven by the fact that there was a 74.6% voter turnout, an astoundingly high number for any election. Second, the United States placed sanctions against Iraq, failing to recognize that those sanctions hurt the common man rather than the political regimes. Those sanctions lead to poverty among youth-heavy populations, attracting extremists to the country to recruit the marginalized for their organizations. Third, the United States broke their promise by leaving U.S. military bases in Mecca following the Gulf War. Finally, oil is another reason for U.S. and Middle Eastern conflict.

Hence, I fully agree with everything Dr. Leahy said today. The United States fails to recognize its role in their conflict with the Middle East. I hope that our next U.S. President can find a way to make amends with the Middle East and pave the road for a prosperous future in the region.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Weekly Report 5: The U.S. in Yemen

According to an article from The New York Times, on March 28, 2016 American Navy ships intercepted and confiscated a weapons shipment from Iran meant for the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Yemen crisis is one of the most serious conflicts it has faced in years. The fight is between the government loyalists, backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis, backed by Iran. The Houthis adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism, which makes up one-third of the population of Northern Yemen. Both of those groups are opposed by AQAP, an al-Qaeda group based out of the Arabian Peninsula. “Western intelligence agencies consider AQAP the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda because of its technical expertise and global reach (BBC).” The violence in Yemen stems from problems of inequality in regards to power and resources. The government has been corrupt, unstable, and weak. The poorest country in the Middle East has been depleted both economically and in terms of infrastructure. More than 10 million citizens are lacking adequate access to nutritional food as well due to unemployment, a lack of social services, and high food prices. With the issues already surrounding the modern Middle East, the West fears that the issues in Yemen will only increase regional tensions.
Last week’s confiscated arms were hidden on a small dhow, a traditional sailing vessel used to transport goods and passengers throughout the Persian Gulf. The weapons included AK-47 rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and machine guns. The crew of the ship was released following the the confiscation of the weapons. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said “that Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war was an example of its ‘destabilizing activities’ in the region (Reuters).’” Questions surrounding the weapons could be raised at the United Nations Security Council, the strongest body in the United Nations responsible for international peace and security.

Some of the weapons seized on March 28, 2016

Reuters. "Yemen: U.S. Seizes Weapons at Sea." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 4 Apr. 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

"Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom? - BBC News." BBC News. BBC, 26 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reflection 5: The Two-State Solution

I believe that a just, durable, and good solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would be the implementation of the two-state solution. Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation is unacceptable in modern times. Palestinians have been permanently displaced and have been stripped of their happiness, prosperity, and most of all hope. According to a Foreign Policy poll from March of 2010, 57 percent of Palestinians and 71 percent of Israelis support a two-state solution. This is what the people within both parties want. However, it has to be something the governments are willing to negotiate, and the United States must recognize that it plays a role in this conflict. For example, Israel is incredibly dependent on the United States, and if the U.S. were to threaten to halt their aid or support at any time it would give Israel incentive to negotiate an agreement with Palestine. Once an agreement is signed, both sides would have to agree on their future actions and be assured that their needs and desires will be met. 

The two-state solution would embody many elements. First of all, agreements in regards to security would have to be reached, especially due to Israel’s large security concerns. This seems like the best logical first step before any portion of the population is moved or Israel removes itself from any territory because it creates some sort of structure. After security agreements are reached, Israel would then remove itself from the West Bank and end its blockade of Gaza that has paralyzed Gaza’s economy. The Palestinian state would then be allocated fair access to sources of water and a fixed land connection between the West Bank and Gaza. Jerusalem would be a shared city, with East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine. The idea of sharing the city is best due to the religious connection that both Muslims and Jews alike have with Jerusalem and its holy sites. The holy sites would also be shared, and mandates would be created in order to help them to run smoothly. I believe that the Palestinian and Israeli governments, along with U.S. and international support, can secure these changes and solve these issues. Finally, and most importantly, both sides would agree that the two-state solution means that the Arab-Israeli Conflict is over. Furthermore, the Arab League should then formally recognize the State of Israel and establish peaceful relations with it. 

There are obvious positive aspects to the two-state solution. First of all, it would give the Palestinian and Israeli people what they want. Secondly, it has the potential to lead to peace in the region, and both countries would benefit from the changes. Even Israel, who would be losing land, would benefit due to improved relations with the United States and its repaired worldwide image. Hence, I believe the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the implementation of the two-state solution.

Cohen, Michael A. “Think Again:  The Two-State Solution.” Foreign Policy. September 14, 2011.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Weekly Report 4: The Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the many major conflicts that face the modern Middle East. The birth of the Conflict traces back to the early 19th century and the creation of Zionism. The Jewish Virtual Library defines Zionism as “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel (Levine).” The secular movement originated due to anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews throughout Europe. Zionism brought solidarity to Jews because it created the goal of restoring Israel as their common homeland. That ideology, combined with a tiredness of being Europe’s scapegoat, eventually led to the migration of tens of thousands of Jews to Palestine. In November of 1947, the United Nations passed Resolution 181 which disproportionately divided the land, angering the Palestinian people. Numerous wars and revolts have taken place since then. It is important to understand that the issues Arabs have with Jews and the state of Israel have nothing to do with religion; rather, they have to do with land. Hebron, a city within the West Bank, has been at the center of much of the conflict in more recent times. This week, an Israeli soldier was stabbed by two Palestinians. Both of the terrorists were killed at the scene. One of the Palestinians was originally only wounded and was lying face down on the ground until an Israeli soldier executed him by shooting him in the head from point blank range. Both the Jerusalem Post (Israeli) and the Ma’an News Agency (Palestinian) wrote articles about the occurrence.
The Jerusalem Post published two very short articles about the event. In the first article, it simply gave a brief summary of what happened. At a checkpoint in Hebron, it said that two Palestinian terrorists wounded an IDF soldier. Following the attack, other soldiers at the scene shot and killed the two terrorists. The wounded soldier is in light-to-moderate condition from the stab wounds in the shoulder and hand. However, shortly after, a video was released showing the second Palestinian man being shot in the head while being face down following the attack. The Jerusalem Post interviewed the soldier who killed the man. The soldier does not regret his actions, believing that he did the right thing and assured that nothing else would happen. He also told the interviewer that the Palestinian man was wearing a coat and that he feared that the man would blow himself up. The soldier was placed into custody following the incident, and will remain there until the conclusion of the investigation.
The Ma’an News Agency released a lengthier article. It provided the same background information, even recognizing the fact that the Palestinians attacked the Israeli soldier. However, it goes into more detail about the execution. The wounded man was left lying on the ground, surrounded by armed soldiers. One of them walked up to him and shot him in the head at close range. The video shows that none of the soldiers reacted to the fatal shot. An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that an investigation will be opened, which is very encouraging to Palestinians. Amnesty International wants the incident to be prosecuted as a potential war crime because a wounded/incapacitated man was shot and killed unjustly. Israel has taken a lot of criticism for what many have termed a “shoot-to-kill” policy adopted against Palestinians (Mulder). This was not the first killing of that sort. It is encouraging to Palestinians that the soldier has been placed under investigation. Violence on both ends is simply unacceptable in order for this conflict to end. 

Amir, Noam, Maariv Hashavua, and Tovah Lazaroff. “Soldier Who Shot Subdued Terrorist: ‘I Did the Right Thing, at the Right Time.’” The Jerusalem Post. Jpost Inc., 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Lazaroff, Tovah. “Two Palestinian Terrorists Stab, Wound IDF Soldier in Attack near Hebron.” The Jerusalem Post. Jpost Inc., 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Levine, Jason. “Zionism:  A Definition of Zionism.” Jewish Virtual Library.

Mulder, Emily. “Israel Opens Probe after Soldier Shoots Wounded Palestinian in Head.” Maan News Agency. 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Reflection 4: ISIS

“ISIS is a virulent, nasty organization that has gained a foothold in ungoverned spaces effectively in Syria and parts of western Iraq. We have to take it seriously. They've shown in Paris what they can do in an organized fashion, and in San Bernardino what we've seen is their ability to proselytize for their perverted brand of Islam and spur small-scale terrorist attacks.”                                                                                              - U.S. President Barack Obama

ISIS first began in Iraq following the U.S. invasion of 2003. ISIS, a descendant of Al-Qaeda, is made up of members from different countries throughout the world. ISIS continues to advance, bringing violence to the center of worldwide attention on a daily basis, something no other terrorist organization has ever been able to achieve. The organization drives on political instability, marginalization, and intellectual decline. ISIS thrives in areas of political instability, because in situations of political turmoil there is usually a group that is being marginalized. In the case of ISIS, the marginalized group is the Sunnis. Sunnis are becoming radicalized due to the injustice they face in countries such as Iran and Syria. Iran, the leader of the Shia world, contributes greatly to the division between Sunnis and Shias through the discrimination of Sunnis socially and governmentally. The Sunni majority feels like a minority, and after suffering many setbacks, are searching for any inspiration and voice, even one of havoc. As we all know, ISIS thrives off of this because they are equipped with the resources to create means of violence. The solution to this issue would be to engage with all groups, because differing opinions create a stronger democracy. Also, if all groups are involved and feel that their voice is being heard within their governments, it will be much tougher for radical groups to gain support. It will be impossible to defeat ISIS if the Sunni problems in the Middle East are not addressed.
Intellectual decline has also played a major role in contributing to the situation of the modern Middle East. There is an intellectual decline in the Arab World due to the idea that critical thinking equates to trouble, and that an educated populous will revolt. Therefore, education is weak and only supports the viewpoints held by those in power. An example of this is occurring right now in Israel. A state-funded, independent education system has been established by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. The Shas schools have obtained greater resources than state schools, encouraging parents to send their children there even if they are not ultra-Orthodox. The percentage of students enrolled in these schools has risen from seven percent to roughly thirty percent over the past twenty years (Levy, 2011). This has a major effect on Israeli society, as the schools teach a very narrow, religious-based curriculum, which does not prepare students to participate in the modern economy nor does it integrate the students with the Muslim and Haredi population, who make up a majority of the population in Israel. Therefore, the students who graduate from these schools will not understand how to interact with these different types of people. This paradox can be applied to the Arab World as a whole: when education fails to deliver in terms of broadness, baseness, and the inclusion of all groups, the society not only fails to combat radical groups, but also fails to understand one another. That failure is at the fault of systems of education, and greatly contributes to the rise of ISIS.
In regards to the ideology of ISIS, its goal is to create a firm state in the areas where they have already gained control, like Northeast Syria and portions of Iraq. Both of these areas were neglected by their regimes, allowing ISIS to come in and take control. ISIS is not interested in taking over the world, a myth many Westerners believe in today. ISIS claims to speak on behalf of the marginalized Sunnis, despite the fact that most Sunnis are against ISIS and their actions. ISIS also has little to offer governmentally and structurally, supporting an anarchical system of government.

There are numerous political actors who play distinct roles in the conflict with ISIS. Iran is pumping money and resources into Syrian President Assad and his regime in an effort to defeat ISIS. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is attempting to contain Iran through any means necessary. The Gulf Countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, have recklessly spent their oil money in an attempt to combat ISIS. However, some of this money has ended up in the hands of ISIS, allowing them to obtain resources and weapons. Russia is also supporting Assad and battling ISIS with ground forces and bombings. The United States is also bombing ISIS, but not doing much else. The United States needs to do more, and acknowledge that it played a role in the development of ISIS by invading Iraq in 2003.
Dr. Boukhars discussed the profiles and characteristics that many of terrorists of ISIS exemplify in their previous lives. First of all, most members of ISIS have a criminal background, usually in drugs. They live an immature lifestyle, spending lots of times in clubs, chasing women, and doing drugs. Suddenly something changes; those who seem to be on the wrong path rapidly convert to Islam. They become obsessed with their faith. A few months later, we see these people on the news following an attack they carried out. Their family is always stunned, and we hear the same story over and over again. No one sees it coming; no mother would expect her son to become a member of ISIS.
Hence, Dr. Boukhar’s lecture was very interesting. It is important to understand ISIS and its roots, along with the types of people they are recruiting, in order to defeat them.

Levy, Daniel. "Same Netanyahu, Different Israel." Foreign Affairs. 24 May 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

"Video And Transcript: NPR's Interview With President Obama." NPR. NPR, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Reflection 3: Concert and Lecture with Massamba Diop

“Music is an elegant survival tactic; no civilization has ever survived without music.” - Tony Vacca

Attending the concert and lecture led by Massamba Diop was one of the most engaging experiences I have partaken in during my time at McDaniel College. Massamba Diop, Abdou Sarr, and Tony Vacca are the most unique entertainers I have ever seen. It was impossible to not smile and dance during their performance. It was truly remarkable.

Massamba Diop is considered by many to be the best tama-player in the entire world. The Senegal, West Africa native has played in venues all over the world including the 2012 London Olympics and the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremonies. The tama, or “talking drum,” is a small, hourglass-shaped drum that mimics the sound of a voice when struck. In fact, the drummers consider the music created by the tama to be their voice, using it as a form of communication throughout villages in Senegal.

Abdou Sarr, another member of the group, is a dancer from Senegal, West Africa. Taught by his mother, he has been dancing for as long as he can remember. Through dance, he allows his body to tell beautiful stories. Tony Vacca, a New Jersey native, is a percussionist and proud child of the 1960s. His music is an expression of the energies he embraces from diverse areas of the world.

During the in-class lecture with the trio, we discussed aspects of African culture and the role of Islam in their daily lives. All three mentioned that Griots, storytellers who understand the past or the “dictionaries” of Africa, are being lost due to the advancements of modern media. People would much rather use Google or Wikipedia to find the answers they are searching for rather than ask an elder Griot about their storied history. In regards to Islam, Massamba Diop, a practicing Muslim, had the major takeaway. He started with the fact that Prophet Muhammad was greeted by singers and drummers when he arrived to Medina. Moreover, he mentioned that being a Muslim is not about the appearance of your clothing; rather, it is about what is in your heart and the daily actions you take. In short, if you are a Muslim in your heart, than you are a true Muslim.

Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and lecture led by Massamba Diop. His riveting music, accompanied by his distinct cultural knowledge, made for an incredible experience. I hope that they are able to come back to McDaniel College in the years to come. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Weekly Report 3: Fairuz

One of the most famous musicians in Arab history is Fairuz. She was born on November 21st, 1935 in Jabal Al Arz, Lebanon. At a young age, her and her family moved to Beirut because her father obtained a job at a print house. Early in her youth, she realized her love for music; she loved singing along with the songs that would come on the radio. She especially enjoyed the songs of Asmahan and Layla Mourad. She often would surprise her community at social gatherings with her beautiful voice. Although her family was very poor, her father put aside money for Fairuz’s education, allowing her to go to school. Upon her arrival, she immediately decided to join her school’s choir. Many took notice of her talent.

In the early 1940s two veteran composers in charge of a radio program came to Fairuz’s school, searching for young talent to join their choir. After listening to the choir, they selected a few students, including Fairuz, to join the team. She enjoyed singing for the choir, and when they offered her the chance to try out for a solo performance she took full advantage of it. One of the stations managers, Halam Elrumi, realized Fairuz’s potential and started to give her songs of he composed to perform. Elrumi then presented her to Assy and Mansour Rahbani, the brothers in charge of the station. Assy also saw the potential in Fairuz, and by the year 1951, she had sung songs written by a multitude of famous composers. Then Assy started composing songs for her. A relationship blossomed between the two, and in July of 1954 they got married.

Fairuz and the Rahbani brothers’ fame started to rise around the entire Arab World. Showcasing the song “Itab,” they were invited to numerous radio stations across the Middle East to present their work, most notably the Damascus and Sawet Elarab radio stations. In 1955, the trio went to Cairo and wrote “Rajioun,” which is still considered one of the most important musical pieces of the time period. After returning to Beirut, on January 1st, 1956 Fairuz gave birth to her first son, naming him Ziad. From this point forward, she adhered to a very conservative lifestyle, preferring the idea of staying home with her son rather than going out to social gatherings.   

In 1957, Fairuz sang “Libnan ya Akhder Helou” in Baalbek, Lebanon. This sparked a string of incredible works, leading the trio to the significant venues such as the Damascus festival, Casino Du Liban, Piccadilly Theater, and Cedars. Fairuz also hit the big screen, starring in three motion pictures in the 1960s. In 1971 she went on a successful tour in the United States, even gracing the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City. She also went on a tour that touched down on every continent. However, in the late 1970s, her work relationship with the Rahbani brothers was broken, and she moved on to singing the works of her son, Ziad, Zaki Nassif, or Mohamed Mohsen.

During the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, Fairuz decided to remain in Beirut. She did not sing any songs in a public setting, refusing to show bias to any sides. A few years after the conclusion of the war, in 1994, she held a concert in Beirut. In 1998 she had some successful concerts in Baalbek. She continues to perform and remains a national symbol for Lebanon.

  1. Boulos, Sargon. “Origins of a Legend.” Al Accessed February 28, 2016.
  2. “Fairuz’s Biography.” Accessed February 28, 2016.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reflection 2: The Islamic Legacy of Spain

Spain has a lasting Islamic legacy, starting in 711 when the Muslims invaded Spain and rapidly conquered the entire peninsula. Cordova is one of the most important cities in history, specifically prominent in the 8th-11th centuries. Abd-al-Rahman, one of the most fascinating characters of the time period, established the Umayyad Emirate in 756 that lasted until 929. Earlier in his life, al-Rahman escaped persecution and death in Damascus and then wandered from tribe to tribe until he came across Syrian troops across the strait from Ceuta. They accepted him as their leader, eventually leading to the successful Umayyad Emirate. Abd-al-Rahman III changed the Emirate to a Caliphate in 929, and in the coming years Cordova became one of the strongest centers in the world. Cordova’s library housed more than 400,000 books, and the city saw economic and industrial advances as well.
The city of Cordova
Sevilla was the most relevant city in Spain from the 11th-13th centuries. This time period was known as taifa, or a period of small city-states. By 1085, through their reconquest, the Christians had reconquered the northern half of Spain down to the former capital of Toledo. The Muslims, panicking about their losses, gained reinforcements from Africa through the Almohads and Almoravids. During this time period, the famous Spanish-Christian warrior El Cid rose to prominence as well.

The city of Granada, and the Granada Nasrid dynasty were of major importance from 1031-1492. Under the scholarship of Alfonso X, chess was introduced to society by the Muslims. Advances in the math, literature, and language were all seen. Furthermore, the first vernacular text was written in Spanish. The glorious palace/fortress of Alhambra was also at its peak during the time, its many fountains symbolizing the wealth and pride of the dynasty.

The Court of Lions at the Alhambra
Eventually, a treaty was signed that was meant to allow cohesive living between the Moriscos and the Christians. However, the Christians broke the treaty and persecuted the Moriscos because they would not convert to Christianity. Desiring a homogeneous country, in 1609 the Spanish expelled the Moriscos from Spain. The effects of the expulsion were serious, as ⅓ of the population of Valencia left, devastating the agriculture in the area.

Hence, through Dr. Deveny’s lecture, I learned how much of a lasting impact the Islamic presence has in Spain. Although it only lasted from 711-1492, the effects are still displayed today through lenses such as language. I look forward to conducting more research on this aspect of Islamic history.